Cicadas are Coming!

If you live on the east coast of the United States, you may need to prepare for the coming cicada invasion! After seventeen years underground, thousands (maybe millions) of cicadas will emerge to mate and lay eggs. When will they emerge? Where are they expected? Do you need to prepare? If so, how?

Magicicada septendecim, commonly known as cicadas, are relatives of katydids and crickets. Depending on population, they can have a thirteen or a seventeen year cycle. This year’s emergence is called Brood II and is on a seventeen-year cycle. This brood is expected to emerge in areas of Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Virginia; Washington, DC; Maryland; and North Carolina.

When cicadas hatch, they travel to the ground and burrow into the soil where they spend thirteen or seventeen years feeding on the juice of the roots of the tree the eggs were laid in. When the ground warms to about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the cicadas emerge.

This year, the cicadas are expected to emerge between April and early June, depending on how far north you are. The sole purpose of emerging – their whole reason for existence – is to look for a mate and reproduce. Within a few days, you will hear the characteristic mating call of the male, which can reach 90 decibels! Five to ten days after emergence, the females will begin laying their eggs in pencil-sized branches of woody plants and trees – usually young trees, as they have the most smaller-sized branches. They cut two slits in a branch and lay approximately 24 eggs, then find another branch and do it again. One female can lay up to 600 eggs! This causes damage to the twigs and branches; if enough branches are affected, the tree is jeopardized. (Note: Adult cicadas do not eat plant leaves like locusts do, nor are they a danger to humans or animals.)

If you live in one of the Brood II areas (map), consider protecting your young trees and bushes with 1/4″ mesh pest netting. You don’t have to cover your trees until you see some cicadas in your yard. You have a few days after sighting before the females will lay eggs. Plants that are particularly vulnerable are:

Apple Trees
Arborvitae
Ash
Beech
Black Eyed Susan
Crab Apple
Cherry
Dogwood Tree
Fruit Trees in general
Grape vines
Hawthorn
Hickory
Holly
Japanese Maple
Lilacs
Magnolia
Maple
Oak
Peach Tree
Pear Tree
Raspberry vines
Rhododendron
Roses
Rose of Sharon
Spirea
Viburnum
Willow

Fortunately, the cicadas will be out and about for only four to six weeks, so netting can be removed then. It may be loud for a while and the molted carcasses left behind may be a nuisance, but they are harmless. Protect your trees, take pictures, and use the opportunity to teach your kids. They’ll soon be gone for another seventeen years.

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